Academic journal article Competition Forum

How Marijuana Legislation Can Affect Human Resource Policies in the Private Sector

Academic journal article Competition Forum

How Marijuana Legislation Can Affect Human Resource Policies in the Private Sector

Article excerpt


Marijuana, or cannabis sativa, has been around longer than the human resource discipline. Marijuana has been used for thousands of years (Ludlum & Ford, 2011). Many people use marijuana for different reasons. Some use it for the medicinal qualities it is believed to have, while others use it simply because they enjoy it. Marijuana creates feelings of euphoria a nd relaxation, which is why many people use it for recreational reasons. It is also regarded as a pain reliever and serves medicinal purposes for patients with various types of injuries or disabilities (Ludlum & Ford, 2011). Whatever the reason fo r marijuana use, one certainty remains: the growing tolerance and recognition of marijuana use is creating unprecedented changes to the laws in the United States as we know them.

Many states had enacted the legal use of marijuana for medicinal purposes years ago, starting with California in 1996 (Ludlow & Ford, 2011). But it was not until recently that marijuana became decriminalized for recreational use in Washington, Colorado and Rhode Island. Under federal law, however, possession, cultivation and use of marijuana remain illegal under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) for any reason, whether medicinal or recreational (2010). Marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug under the CSA, which prohibits its possession, dispensing and distribution. Schedule 1 drugs are the most carefully controlled by the government and include other drugs such as heroin (Sergeev, 2011). Despite marijuana remaining illegal under federal law, many states are adopting their own laws with regard to marijuana use and possession.


With the increasing number of people using marijuana and the growing trend of states legalizing it for medicinal use, we can only anticipate the same trend with regard to decriminalization for recreational use, even if only in the states that current ly have legal regulations for medicinal marijuana. According to the National Survey on Drug Abuse and Health's most recent statistics, "In 2012, an estimated 23.9 million Americans aged 12 or older were current (past month) illicit drug users, meaning they had used an illicit drug during the month prior to the survey interview. This estimate represents 9.2 percent of the population aged 12 or older." (See Figure 1) (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, NSDUH, 2013).

It is imperative that employers understand that there may ap pear to be potential infringements upon an employee's right to use marijuana where it is legal for medicinal use or decriminalized for recreational use, but more importantly, employees need to be reminded or made aware of their employer's rights and the employee's obligations to the employer (Hartman, 2013). Employers need to familiarize themselves with the marijuana laws and regulations in their states and any other states where they may have additional businesses. It is imperative for employers to do so in order to be able to present a legally sound defense for their policies and decisions, if necessary.

The Human Resource policy areas that this legislation primarily affects are equal opportunity and employment practices, benefits and compensation management, and management development and training. What does this new marijuana legislation mean for employers? Since marijuana use and possession are still illegal through the federal government, employers still have the right to ban employees from marijuana use and can continue to enforce their "zero-tolerance" policies (Mauerer, 2012).

First, it is important to understand the definitions of "decriminalized" and "legalized," as these two words are often used interchangeably. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (2011), marijuana legalization refers to laws or policies that make the possession and use of marijuana legal under state law. Marijuana decriminalization refers to laws or policies adopted in a number of state and local jurisdictions which reduce the penalties for possession and use of small amounts of marijuana from criminal sanctions to fines or civil penalties. …

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